We so often waver between knowing that we are enough and the innate, biological desire to be intimate. As a woman, a long time practitioner of yoga and mindfulness, and a girl who never forgets the impossible portrayals of love in the plethora of Disney movies of her childhood, I’ve found myself in the life-long predicament of looking for love – inside and out.
And I found it – over and over again – or at least I thought I did. I found best friends, lovers, adventure companions and, eventually, someone to divulge all of the messy details of my psyche to and plan a future with. What I expected to come with these discoveries was ease. A falling into the metaphorical arms of eternal security, and a deep knowing that no matter what happens in my world, I am worthy because somebody loves me! But what I started to understand was that no matter how picture perfect my relationship is, there will always be times when I feel the earth beneath me shake – that that security is an illusion.
The yogis and spiritual masters tell us over and over again, and as I walk the path of understanding in my own life, I’ve begun to take note of these valuable lessons.
Listen to your body
One of the major benefits of a regular yoga or mindfulness practice is body awareness. Through tuning into our bodies we begin to understand how emotional tension can manifest itself in our physiology. Liz Koch (coreaware- ness.com) is an expert on the psoas muscle - a long fusiform muscle located on the side of the lumbar region. Koch says that we hold a lot of emotional tension in this area, which is why it’s not uncommon to experience strong emotions in certain yoga poses; “A primal messenger of the central nervous system, the psoas is an emotional muscle expressing what is felt deep within – what is commonly referred to as “gut feelings”. Remember the last time a relationship ended badly and thinking ‘I should have listened to my gut’? Start to trust the sensations in your body. You don’t need to immediately react to those sensations, but ultimately they may be giving you some very necessary insight into your subconscious, and you can use these insights to guide your decisions in relationships.
Modern mindfulness guru and founder of the Headspace app, Andy Puddicombe, suggests some advice for staying present during turbulent and uncertain times (and, let’s face it, love can be pretty turbulent). He recommends that instead of using our energy for wishing that a situation were different, we can put that energy into simply being – being in the moment with our self or another. When we do this our life (in relationship) “becomes a journey we are on together, day by day, discovering what is new and meeting each and every moment afresh. If we can do this, then we will experience an increasing sense of confidence, in being at ease with both comfort and discomfort, difficulty and joy.” The way to achieve this is through a simple practice of mindful meditation. “Make sure you take some time out each day”, suggests Puddicombe. When you commit to a formal practice of meditation (even a short one), it will be easier to allow negative thoughts and judgments to emerge and easily pass. Enjoy your relationships in the now and allow them to unfold organically, basking in the newness that each day brings, every day.
Learn to nurture your inner child
Mindfulness master and Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reinforces: “To take good care of ourselves, we must take care of the wounded child inside of us…if you listen every day, healing will take place.” We all carry wounds from our childhood, and these can be triggered and re-emerge in romantic relationships. When you notice yourself experiencing strong emotions in reaction to a situation in a relationship, see if you can sit with that feeling. Sometimes when we feel the urge to strongly react, we’re experiencing trauma from our past, and often this has little to do with the current situation. Take time to listen to and take care of your inner child before reacting. Hahn suggests that we can meditate on our inner child (breathing in - I see myself as a five year old child, breathing out – I smile with compassion to the five year old child in me), spend time listening to our inner child, talk to our inner child and write letters to our inner child to facilitate healing.
Don’t take things personally
In his book ‘The Four Agreements’, spiritual teacher and author Don Miguel reminds us not to take things personally in relationships. He writes, “nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.” When you can understand this, he goes on, “you can say, “I love you,” without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes – or you can say no – whatever you choose – without guilt or self-judgment. You can choose to follow your heart always.”
Modern philosopher and author of numerous books and essays on the topic of love, Alain De Botton, supports this advice, suggesting that when we find ourselves in conflict in our relationships, we should sometimes treat our partner like a child. He says, “one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. And not to infantilise them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior. And if a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, okay, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something.”
One of my favourite philosophers, J. Krishnamurti, has some enticing words of wisdom when it comes to love. He says, “the demand to be safe in relationship inevitably breeds sorrow and fear. This seeking for security is inviting insecurity.” When we rely on another to make us feel good about ourselves, we lose the ability to take control of our own self worth. We cannot force our lover into a vicious cycle of placating us – that’s not love. “Fear is not love, dependence is not love, jealousy is not love, possessiveness and domination are not love, responsibility and duty are not love, self-pity is not love, the agony of not being loved is not love, love is not the opposite of hate any more than humility is the opposite of vanity”, says Krishnamurti. He says, simply, when you are “not seeking, not wanting, not pursuing, there is no centre at all. Then there is love.” When we understand this, we can begin to see the importance of letting go in love. As the Buddha said, “you can only lose what you cling to.”
Make self-love your priority
“Authentic self-esteem comes not from improving your self-image but from knowing and accepting that core self within that is beautiful, wise, and loving,” explains Deepak Chopra. From this place of genuine self-love that doesn’t rely on external validation, you put yourself in the best position to love others and be loved. If you truly loved yourself, you wouldn’t need others to substantiate you. Instead, you could enjoy the delight of your own company. Develop the habit of continually asking yourself the question: What would I do if I loved myself?
Words by Jessica Humphries.